5 Easy Ways to Improve Your French

Glorious, Beautiful, Maddening…French

Ah, French. This time not about “the French” people, but about their oh-so-beautiful language that can in turn move us deeply or confound us entirely – often at the same time.

Granted, I make as many mistakes as the next expat (ranging from funny to outright embarrassing), but the question I’m asked most about the language is this:  Did you know French before moving to France?

The answer is no, but more importantly, this question most often comes from someone who has studied the language themselves.  And the real translation is this, “How the heck did you do this & not lose your mind?” (It’s all in the eyes)  Then we commiserate for about 5 minutes about all the “methods” we’ve tried to learn French.  Thankfully, I’ve moved on from marathon sessions with my grammar books at the local cafe – no one’s meant to eat that many croissants.

Basically, I found there’s no easy route to French study, but there are several fun ways to spice-up your time in le language lab.  These tips were originally published on Le Petit France Blog, and are what I still use for my French studies.

1. Buy grammar books that fit your learning style.

This tip may seem obvious, but I find the hardest thing for me to overcome is lack of motivation when it comes to studying a language. I really need the learning process to be fun & as uncomplicated as possible. Grammar, while normally anything but fun, becomes quite unbearable when books are poorly designed, full of complicated explanations, or just too long.  I made a habit of spending lots of quality time at Barnes & Noble and researching their French section

-For absolute beginner French, I like French in 10 Minutes a Day (author: Kershul).  This is an interactive series with stickers to label things around the house, a CD-Rom with supplemental exercises, & lots of bright, colorful pages with basic grammar and vocabulary.  This book really got me excited at the start of my studies & helped me focus on small achievements.

-Moving to the next level, I’ve found the Practice Makes Perfect: Complete French Grammar (author: Heminway) book very helpful.  It’s quite a “no frills” grammar series, but the layout is easy to follow, the explanations are clear, and the exercises are manageable. There is also a French Verb Tenses book & one on French Vocabulary in the series.

2. Overcome boredom with a podcast.

I’ve become a real fan of using podcasts for both beginning and advancing language study.  Again, they add an element of fun & you have the opportunity to a hear the language from a native speaker – plus you can take them anywhere.

-I’ve really enjoyed Learn French with Alexa.  You can download the first 15 lessons for free on iTunes & then there are subscription options on her website: http://learnfrenchwithalexa.com/.

-Louis at Daily French Pod also has several worthwhile podcasts (also available on iTunes) which help increase vocabulary by listening to everyday French conversations followed by detailed explanations by Louis.   Louis has subscription options at: http://www.dailyfrenchpod.com/.

3. Buy a fashion or cooking magazine in French.

Even if you don’t understand every expression or vocabulary word, getting your hands on a French magazine can be a great way to have some fun with the language & see its practical uses.  I like to read through an article to get the gist, highlight words I don’t know, and then note their definitions for my vocabulary list.  Skimming through Marie Claire or reading up on the latest food trends doesn’t feel like studying, and you can pick up some good cultural insights in the process.

4. Watch movies, or podcast videos, in French.

This tip is quite universal for language study, but I think it remains a tried & true method for getting exposure to French and increasing your listening comprehension.  Going through a series of films like Blue, White, & Red, (the Three Colors Trilogy) or spending some time with quirky Amélie can help train your ear to differentiate all those lovely, rolling vowel sounds.  Turning on the French language captions helps me to see where the verbs end and the nouns begin.

5.  Take a break from it all for 2-3 weeks.

It might sound a bit counter-intuitive, but spending a short amount of time away from language studies can allow you to digest all that you’ve learned and reflect on what you need to do to improve. I had one teacher call this the “marinating process”; letting what you’ve learned marinate (food references always work well in France) for a bit until you’re ready to get out there & put your savoir-faire into action.

8 thoughts on “5 Easy Ways to Improve Your French”

  1. I found a website run by a woman who teaches french via Skype in half hour blocks (or longer). She lives in California, but she’s a native of France. It’s worked out really well.


    1. Skype is a great tool – there are some teachers using it here as well. Makes you really appreciate the convenience of modern technology! I feel like I get a lot of the same benefits from the French podcasts – although I really enjoy the idea of classroom study too (so much fun to study French in France!). Good luck with your studies.


  2. I learned French by immersion, left with my cousins and aunt and uncle who spoke at that time no English. I think that Rosetta Stone while expensive is as close to immersion as you can get.


    1. That’s probably the best way to do it Michel. I start with a few French CDs & hit the grammar books before I arrived, but nothing really helped me progress like being exposed to the language every day.


  3. I’ve tinkered with LiveMocha in the past. It’s a great beginner’s tool and you can interact with others who are natives of the language you are studying. But I agree nothing beats total immersion.


    1. Very good idea, I’ll have to have a look at LiveMocha – always looking for new ways to get motivated to study French – thanks for your comment.


  4. Finally, the perfect excuse to make my boyfriend watch French films with me 🙂
    We are heading to the south of France in July and want to improve our French, but it’s proving hard to get the time (and discipline) to practice.
    Je parle un petit peu français, and I’ve seen how much the French appreciate knowledge of their language (even when it’s full of shockingly incorrect grammar). We would love to be able to participate in conversations, and understand more than ‘hour’,’road’ or ‘police station’ 🙂
    Here’s hoping these great ideas will pay off!
    Merci Tuula!


    1. Glad to hear you’re finding some time to work on your French. Believe me, it’s not easy and, as you said, requires a bit of discipline ! I did spend hours (and hours!) studying but I found it really pays off if you know a few words and try to speak with the French people you meet. I can’t speak for Paris, but almost everyone I’ve met here (be it just in a shop or with friends) really appreciates any attempts to speak their language. And maybe the funniest of it all, is that the French are the first to admit how difficult their language is! So, I say “bon courage” to you and happy travels. I’m sure you will love the South of France – especially in July, it’s just gorgeous! bon voyage and many thanks for your comment 🙂 Tuula


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